How to Help a Cat Lose Weight

fat orange tabby cat laying down

Even a Couple of Extra Pounds Can Have a Huge Impact on Your Cat’s Health

Over half of cat owners live with an overweight cat. And while it’s easy to overlook a few extra ounces or think that it’s just extra-fluffy fur, additional fat has significant consequences. Whether it’s the risk of a shortened lifespan, the increased chance of health problems or just mobility concerns, even a couple of extra pounds can have a huge impact on your cat’s health.

Why Do an Extra Few Pounds Matter?

It’s easy to minimize the importance of weight loss when your veterinarian says your cat could lose two pounds or so. After all, two pounds don’t make much difference to humans. But with the average cat weighing in at 10 pounds, two pounds represents a substantial problem!

To understand the scope of the problem, think about it this way. Consider the average 160-pound person and compare them to the average 10-pound cat. Two extra pounds on that cat is the equivalent of 32 extra pounds on that 160-pound human. And if the average cat had three pounds of weight on their frame, that equals nearly 50 pounds of excess weight on an average human frame.

So when considering excess weight, think proportionately. Even 8 ounces will matter if you have a delicate 5-pound Siamese.

Determining How Much Weight to Lose

Human beings often talk about weight loss in terms of pounds because we often use weight-based guidelines to assess our ideal body type. But BMI charts and other guidelines that work for the majority of humans don’t really work for cats. When assessing the best body type for a cat, we recommend you use body condition scoring.

Body condition scoring for cats often uses a 1-5 scale or the 1-9 scale. Mud Bay uses the 1-5 scale, so a score of three is considered ideal. If your cat exceeds the ideal score, a scale can be useful to track monthly weight loss goals, but you’ll still want to do a hands-on and visual check as you approach your goal.

It can also be tough to assess your own cat. Your veterinarian will be able to help you determine your cat’s body condition, as well as set weight loss goals. Muddies are also trained to help you assess your cat’s body condition if you need help.

fat black and white cat laying down

Slow and Steady Weight Loss Wins the Race

Purposeful weight loss should improve health, but cats need to follow a careful weight loss plan to make sure their liver isn’t impacted. When a cat loses weight quickly, it’s possible that they could develop fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease, which your veterinarian probably calls hepatic lipidosis, in some circumstances can be caused by rapid weight loss and can potentially be fatal.

Slow weight loss will allow your cat to reap all the health benefits of a svelte frame without the risk to internal organs. Your goal should be weight loss that’s only 3 to 4 percent of your cat’s total weight per month. For a 12-pound cat, that’s a range of 5.76 to 7.68 ounces per month.

To further protect against fatty liver disease, consider feeding your cat diets high in L-carnitine or supplementing their L-carnitine consumption with low-calorie treats or a supplement. There’s limited evidence, including a 2002 study, that found that L-carnitine helps protect the liver during weight loss. L-carnitine also protects and may even help build muscle mass during weight loss, so it can be a valuable supplement for any cat working towards a weight-loss goal.

two large cats looking out of the window

Fitting Exercise into the Hunt-Eat-Groom-Sleep-Repeat Cycle

Your cat already has a preferred daily rhythm cultivated by millions of years of evolution. Unlike other animals, your domestic feline expects to hunt several times a day with shorter rests in between. We call this the hunt-eat-groom-sleep-repeat cycle, and by understanding it, you can glean valuable information about the best time to play with your cat. Many cat owners think their cat isn’t interested in playing, but often it’s just the timing that’s wrong. The best possible time to play with your cat is right before they’re ready to chow down.

Ten to fifteen minutes before it’s time to eat, you can start the hunt. Now’s the time to break out a favorite toy and lead your cat in a chase around the house. Sometimes, your cat is more interested in food than playing before meals. In this case, the solution is easy, try moving food around as part of playtime. If you can get your cat to follow you around the house for 10 minutes as you carry around their bowl, that’s a win. Do that before each of their three meals, and you’ll have handily fit 30 minutes of exercise into their routine.

Depending on your cat, you can also help them hunt for their food. Try portioning their foods into tiny amounts and placing the food in various parts of the house. Make some places somewhat difficult to reach to ensure your cat will have a challenge. Many cats will enjoy the intellectual stimulation of hunting around the house for food. It can be a great game to play when you’re away at work or appointments because it encourages your cat to stay active. Of course, if you have multiple cats, hunting for food may not work for your household.

montage of cats playing, eating, grooming and sleeping

The Diet Alterations That May Help Your Cat Lose Weight

Feeding your cat slightly less food can help them lose weight. But food reduction isn’t the only weight-loss option to try. Kibble contains a lot more carbohydrates than cats need, so many cats naturally lose weight when they eat the same amount of lower-carbohydrate wet or raw food. Switching from wet to raw may also help your cat lose weight.

While not all cats will make a diet switch, we strongly recommend incorporating at least some wet or raw food into your cat’s diet. The advantages of the higher moisture levels in these foods help protect your cat from chronic dehydration and the urinary stones and infections that often come with it. Weight loss is often a desirable side effect of this diet change.

When weight loss is your top priority, raw food is the most effective. Cats respond best to a low carbohydrate diet that’s full of muscle-protecting protein. And many cats transition easily to raw food if they’re given enough time to adjust.

Sometimes kibble is the only type of food that works for your cat or your household. In these cases, look for a high-protein, low-carbohydrate kibble to help aid the weight loss process. Most cats–as obligate carnivores–will respond to this change by dropping excess fat. A few felines might not respond to this type of kibble. In these cases, low calorie and high fiber kibble is the next food type to try.

A cardboard cat carrier

When to Talk to Your Vet About Weight Loss

Most veterinarians are eager to partner with you to help your overweight cat. Ensuring that your cat loses a small amount of weight every week can be tricky, and there are a few unusual health issues that can hinder weight loss.

So if you’ve switched to raw or wet food (or the lowest carbohydrate option your cat will eat) and played regularly with your cat, but you still don’t see the scale budge, talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian’s office will be able to help you troubleshoot any specific issues you’ve been having.